Off the Cuff: Lori Young, Director of Oberlin College Career Center


Lori Young, Career Center Director

Adam Gittin, News Editor

Lori Young is the new director of the Oberlin College Career Center. She comes to Oberlin from ReadyNow!, a leadership training and consulting business that she founded in 2014. Young holds a BA in communications from Ashland University and a master’s in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University. She has worked in career services at Case Western University, Baldwin-Wallace University and the University of Georgia, and in leadership development departments at the Cleveland Clinic and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She recently earned a professional certified coach credential from the International Coach Federation.

How did you decide on a communications major?

I’m one of those people that changed my major at least three or four times. When I started at Ashland I was a studio art major. I thought I wanted to go into more of like graphic design and eventually spend a year at one of the art and design schools, because Ashland had a partnership. I took a number of studio art classes and decided that it was more of a hobby than it was something that I wanted to do for a career. I switched to education — that was a very prominent major at Ashland. I thought teaching was in my genes, which eventually showed up later in life in a different way, but we had to do field experiences early in the schools within Ashland, and again I just realized that’s not how I see myself. So I stumbled upon communications, partially because of a professor I had that I really just got a lot out of… but I also liked to write, so applied writing was my minor. I knew that communication was a strength of mine, both in written form and in speaking, and I initially thought that I would want to go into something like public relations. I was very involved on campus, so I knew I wanted to do something more around events and bringing people together. But it was ultimately through my experiences with residence life and other student organizations that I discovered that working on a college campus was actually a career option for me. Going into school I didn’t know that there was even such a master’s degree as college student personnel — it wasn’t in my purview — and it was through the other administrators at Ashland that I learned more about their educational backgrounds and it led me to apply to graduate school.

And what does the college student personnel master’s entail?

It’s not very common. Some schools call it “higher education administration.” “Personnel” is more the old name for that function on a college campus. I think now [at Bowling Green State University] it’s called “higher education and student affairs.” It really focuses on student development theory, so we learned a lot about the college student in their social development, their cognitive development, their emotional development. The idea is that you develop as students in the classroom, but you also develop from your experiences outside of the classroom. So the study is around how you shape the class experiences to be developmental and help prepare you for the future… [while at the same time] maturing as a person.

Helping someone find what their interest is, either in a major or a career, is a lot more nuanced than reviewing a resume. How do you tailor your recommendations to a single student?

It’s a little different. As a coach, I wouldn’t recommend something to a student. My job would be to help take you, or any student, through a process that you discover that for yourself… It has to start with who you are as an individual. What are you interested in? You know, what kinds of things do you get excited about? Do you naturally gravitate to certain kinds of books, certain kinds of movies, certain kinds of hobbies? That generally tells people what kinds of interests they have. But you can’t make a decision on one variable, so I usually have people discuss [two or three more things]. So, your interests, then what’re you good at? Where do you find that you’re excelling? What things come to you naturally? When do things come easily to you, what are those strengths?

So interests, skills, and then who are you as a person? What is your personality style? Because that style helps to indicate what kind of organization would be a good fit, even sometimes what kind of work activities would be a good fit.

And then I saved this one for the last because I think it’s most important: what do you believe in? What are your values? What’s at your core? What do you need in order to be fully satisfied and happy in what you do? So even as a coach with ReadyNow!, even as a leadership development person at the [Cleveland] Clinic or the [Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland] and then certainly with students when I worked in higher education, it really comes down to that question, “what is my purpose, and where do I find meaning in work?”

By going through that whole process of figuring out those things about yourself — which seem like, “gosh I should know that, I’ve lived with myself from the day I was born!” — but most people don’t take the time to sit down and articulate those things. You used the words “more nuanced”, and we could certainly put together a structure where people go through those questions, but it is working one-on-one with people, or even in a peer group… if that’s a comfortable place, where you start to talk about it and say what it is that you want. And usually it lends itself to some themes and patterns that are pretty clear about where you should be.

Leadership, as a skill, is stressed when applying to schools and jobs, yet often the reality is that you will not be occupying a leadership position right away. But that’s not what is really meant by “leaderships skills,” is it? There’s something to the skills behind being a leader, even if you’re not going to be in that position.

I think when organizations or graduate programs might ask about leadership skills, what they want is somebody who has the ability to have some self-initiative and drive; people that can build relationships and work collaboratively, people that can contribute as a team member, people that can solve problems. Good leaders will want people on their team that can do all of those things because even, say, in this leadership role that I have, I am not going to make every single decision. It’s a group effort. My job is to help make the most use out of the team of people that we have here, based on what they bring — their knowledge, their skills. The leaders who try to make all the decisions independently are the ones that end up struggling. I would say good organizations who look for leadership qualities, even in students who are coming right out of college, are looking for people that have that self-motivation and drive to be problem solvers, but to be part of a team environment, too.

I did a little bit of consulting work with an organization in Columbus with ReadyNow!, and I was helping them hire some entry-level analyst positions for their company… Applicants needed data or analytic skills, but some of that can be taught. What they really came down to is they wanted people that could function independently, that could speak up and share their thoughts — they wanted those thoughts — they wanted people who were good team members that would step in and help out when the workload became heavy for somebody else, they wanted people to be able to write and speak because they had clients (some of them high-level) that they needed these people to reach out to… I think those are the things that ultimately someone with the formal title of “leader” needs as well, and they’re quite frankly the things that, when I was at the Fed and the Clinic and when I consulted with different companies, that those organizations invest in because people don’t naturally come with some of those skills.

Except for a few master’s programs in the Conservatory, Oberlin only offers undergraduate degrees. Does this create any challenges?

From what I know so far, it does seem that, for a large portion of students, graduate school is the destination for them right after Oberlin, depending on what their longer-term career goal is. But there are a large number of students who don’t do that right away or just may not go at all, and that’s fine, too… I think the challenge is uncovering the unique possibilities for each person. I think another challenge is how do we make it easy for the student to navigate that process as well as get the information easily that they need to help inform those decisions. A challenge is that you are all extremely busy with your academic work and whatever other student involvement things that are really critical to your college experience. How do you fit in the career preparation on top of all of that? Those are questions that I have, and that’s our job right now: to help figure out how to do that.

How can you help students get job experience while they’re still taking classes here?

The experience part doesn’t have to wait until after you’re done… Internships are a great way to do that, but a lot of times the student jobs and groups that people are involved in provide experience. Different projects in classes provide experience. You come out of here with a lot of experience, and it’s our job to help you figure out how — and this isn’t an appealing word — how you market or sell that experience, which doesn’t have to come from a paid job. One of the things that I think is tricky for everybody — it’s tricky even for people like me who are a lot older, but especially when I had my own business and I had to sell myself all the time in order to be chosen for the work that the client had — is how do you demonstrate your value? There are lots of ways to do that, and some of it comes back to knowing who you are, what you’re skilled at, and then being able to tie that back to ways that you’ve demonstrated those things.

Are there any changes you’re looking to make to how the career center operates?

One of the first things that we are doing as a team is a needs assessment to reach out to the student population in various ways — whether it’s through surveys or focus groups or individual interviews — to really understand what you need most to help you make that transition, and find out where the gaps are right now so we can make better decisions about if and what we’re changing about the way we develop our services.

The outreach I know we’re currently doing is a lot through the peer advisors; our team goes out and does classroom presentations and to student groups and residence halls. I think this needs assessment will help us to know where the best use of our time is to reach students in a way that’s realistic, because I think what we bump up into now is that, even though it might be interesting to come to a panel or a workshop around career development, there are 12 other things that you could attend, and there’s just not enough time. I think one change is to try to create more “just in time” resources that students can access in a way that they don’t have to come to a program to get the information, or you don’t have to always have a meeting with someone here. We are really savvy about getting you the information you need, and certainly with social media and technology I want to figure out ways we can do that without losing any kind of personal touch, so that students know that they can still see a person, but that they can also access information in other ways, too. Also, we may change our name to be something that is more contemporary to the student population and what we’re trying to do.

Could you tell me more about the needs assessment?

In the next couple weeks we’re putting together a committee that represents various people on campus, including faculty, the Conservatory, our staff — and I’d like to bring in some students — and use that group to help guide me in doing a needs assessment that works for this campus culture. Basically we want to find out, what do you all need? What do you want? Where are you now? And then how do we fill that gap in-between? What we find out [from the needs assessment] is really going to help us know if what we’re doing now is meeting that need, or if there are there other ways that we could approach that work. So it’s going to start by putting together this committee representative of the campus, and then we’ll be reaching out to do various surveys, focus groups, probably some one-on-one interviews; tally all that information and then put together a recommendation and proposal.